By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
Reggae rhythms and island spices will fill the air Saturday during the second annual Caribbean Afr'am Festival at the Killeen Community Center.
The free event is sponsored by the Songhai Bamboo Roots Cultural Association, a Killeen-based nonprofit that promotes African and West Indian heritage.
"We're trying to bring the link between Africa and the West Indies, as well as here in the diaspora," said founding member Darlene Golden of Killeen.
In addition to the annual festival, the group also sponsors a weekly youth drumming class at the Housing Authority of Killeen.
The organization "was basically created because individuals wanted to have something to showcase the culture, because it was lacking here in Killeen," Golden said.
Beyond Caribbean food, cultural displays, and clothing and other vendors, 20 musical acts will perform from noon until 11 p.m. at the Killeen Amphitheater behind the community center.
The event is partially funded by Killeen Municipal Hotel Motel Occupancy Tax revenues.
Mayor Tim Hancock will speak briefly at 12:45 p.m. The Fort Hood Army Jazz Ensemble and Brooklyn-based dancehall reggae artist G Tee Shotta are just some of those who perform until headliner Oddyssey Squad takes the stage at 9:45 p.m.
In an interview this week, Shotta, who has been signed with Wu-Tang Clan's Protect Ya Neck Records, said he was looking forward to performing in the Fort Hood area for the first time.
The Ronald McDonald House ambassador is always looking for ways to give back, he said.
"You know, there's people out there risking their lives, doing something for change for us," Shotta said. "I'd like to lift their spirits for everything they've been going through."
Like many reggae musicians, Shotta said he focuses on positive themes in his music. "It brings everybody together in such a different way," he said.
Songhai Association member Raymond Gray of Killeen, whose emcee name is Jah Ray, said reggae's message has been one of peace since its inception in Jamaica decades ago.
That's what garners so many fans from all different cultures, he said.
"The message is in the music," said Gray, an Army veteran who was born in Jamaica. "We have a personal responsibility to put positivity out there. Whatever we put out there, that's what we get back."
The Killeen Community Center and amphitheater are at 2201 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559.